Regional Reviews: Phoenix
With that track record and the very dark subject matter, it seems like it would be a strange novel to adapt into a musical. However, perhaps taking guidance from the highly successful Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler musical Sweeney Todd, which also focuses on a mass murderer, and the well-regarded film version of American Psycho that starred Christian Bale and was directed by Mary Hannon, plus the fact that Ellis's book is now considered somewhat a modern day classic, composer Duncan Sheik and bookwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa adapted the novel into a dark musical that, like the novel, deliciously satirizes the greedy 1980s. Stray Cat Theatre is presenting the Arizona premiere of the show in a sleek, slick and sick production that is well directed and bitingly funny, with excellent creative aspects and an exceptional turn by Valley favorite Toby Yatso as the psychopathic serial killer.
Sondheim and Wheeler used revenge and the impact of Britain's class system as the motivation for Sweeney Todd to kill, and Ellis also uses society, along with jealousy and boredom, as the catalyst for the killing by investment banker Patrick Bateman in the book and musical. The plot follows his exploits involving terrifying, torturing and killing people as a result of him being bored with this extravagant, yet completely shallow and empty, life. This was the decade when excess ran rampant, especially on Wall Street, where liquid lunches and lavish, expensive dinners and designer clothes were commonplace, and wild parties, sex and drugs were king. Bateman is obsessed with status and style yet finds he truly only feels alive when he is sadistically plotting the deaths of, or actually killing, his competition, his friends, and random strangers such as the prostitutes he picks up and the homeless people on his street.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's book is fairly faithful to the major plot points in the novel's narrative, including a similar style of having Patrick provide narration throughout, while also adding in some elements that help with the transfer from novel to stage. Ellis used dozens of references to name brands of the 1980s, along with mention of the popular music of the time period and that all transfers over to the stage adaptation. Duncan Sheik's score uses a few well known '80s pop songs, and his original songs are also reminiscent of the electronic techno pop sounds of that decade. While the songs serve as rich commentary on the characters and Sheik does a masterful job in rhyming designer names and having the songs serve as a way for Bateman's inner voice to sing, many of the songs aren't very memorable and none truly rise to the level of his musical compositions for Spring Awakening. Also, the confusion and ambiguity in the book and film are still present in the musical adaptation, which might not sit comfortably with some audience members who are hoping for a more conclusive resolution.
Director Ron May directs his cast to deliver the appropriate level of heightened satire to make the show a humorous and biting commentary on the decade of decadence, and he wisely downplays the gore and blood of the violent moments, keeping the focus squarely on the satirical nature of the piece, though the violence is still shocking. His cast all use broad line deliveries that tie beautifully into the superficiality of their vain and conceited characters. His pacing often keeps the audience on the edge of their seats while also not shortchanging the humor, of which there is a good amount, resulting in a highly entertaining and focused production.
Toby Yatso, who is on stage for almost the entire production, is sensational as Patrick Bateman. Patrick is constantly on the edge and obsessed with who has the best business card, wears the best designer clothes, handles the biggest account, and can get in to the best clubs and restaurants. Yatso portrays this obsessive nature perfectly, with exceptional facial expressions, body language, and voice inflection that immediately let us know exactly who this character is and what he is thinking. Yatso's Bateman is charismatic, but we also get the sense that he is very insecure and devoid of any true emotion, with absolutely no empathy except for a strange connection he finds to the characters in Les Misérables. Once Patrick begins to spiral out of control, Yatso also beautifully depicts the questioning of his sanity as reality and fiction begin to blend together. This is one of the best performances I've seen from Yatso in the six years I've been reviewing shows in the Phoenix area.
Emily Mohney and Katie Frederick portray the two young women who are closest to Patrick, his girlfriend Evelyn and his secretary Jean, respectively. Both actresses have beautiful singing voices and are adept at playing these very different women. Mohney's Evelyn is appropriately shallow, self-centered and oblivious, while Frederick's Jean is sweet, sensitive, and slightly insecure. As Bateman's rival Paul Owen, Ryan Malikowski's relaxed and confident nice guy image is a stark contrast to Yatso's sleek and obsessive Bateman. In supporting parts, Devon Mahon and Michael Schauble are hilarious as two of Bateman's co-workers, and Patti Suarez is quite good as Patrick's unapproving mother.
The exceptional lighting and dazzling video imagery and projections by Dallas Nichols form a constantly moving, visceral experience that immerses the audience in Patrick's sleek, fast-paced, and slightly confusing world. Kat Bailes' stylized choreography and movement, like the costumes, hair and makeup designs by Maci Cae Hosler, work perfectly to echo the styles of the '80s. With large, angled white walls and just a few pieces of furniture, Aaron Sheckler's set design is fairly minimalistic, but that allows for speedy scene change and also gives Nichols the perfect palette for his visual contributions. Pete Bish's sound design surrounds the audience with aural stimuli, and the music direction by Cullen Law, with live synthesizer playing by William Sawyer, delivers rich, period sounds.
American Psycho the musical, like the novel, expertly satirizes how consumerism, greed, superficiality, narcissism and misogyny ran rampant in the 1980s, and Stray Cat Theatre's well-cast production is funny and disturbing yet also highly entertaining.
American Psycho runs through November 23, 2019, at Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, call 480-227-1766 or visit straycattheatre.org.
Director: Ron May
*Member, Actor's Equity Association